In 1964, New York photographer William John Kennedy was driving through Queens when he came across a field of 8ft-tall black-eyed Susan flowers. He summoned his friend – an artist who obsessively painted flowers in psychedelic colours – for an impromptu shoot. The artist was, of course, Andy Warhol, and the field was the backdrop to one of the few images of him without sunglasses.
Kennedy was introduced to Warhol by fellow artist Robert Indiana and went on to document his art-making throughout the 1960s. He photographed Warhol and his assistant Gerard Malanga while they were making Taylor Mead’s Ass (a film consisting entirely of shots of the actor’s bottom); he captured him unrolling an acetate Marilyn and wearing his Birmingham Race Riot print on a homemade sandwich board.
On February 22, exactly 33 years after Warhol’s death, these images are being shown for the first time in London, at Zebra One Gallery. Andy Warhol: Full Circle charts the birth of pop art through Kennedy’s images, alongside his exquisitely humorous 2012 short documentary.
The film follows Kennedy and his wife Marie as they visit the places and characters that populate the photographer’s work: the Factory in Manhattan – now turned into a parking lot – introduced by an 85-year-old Taylor Mead (proudly declaring: “My ass looks like a painting”); artist Robert Indiana’s home; the shop of Warhol’s photo developer (who now regrets not accepting paintings as payment); and the actress Ultra Violet, candidly telling the story of when she left Salvador Dalí for Warhol.
“Warhol’s identity was shrouded in mystery, hidden behind his wig and glasses,” says Zebra One owner Gabrielle Du Plooy, “but Kennedy’s photographs and documentary give a unique and important insight into that extraordinary time before he achieved his 15 minutes – and counting – of fame.”